Wood: Iowa’s Secretary of State is part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem

Last week I sat in on a meeting with Paul Pate, Iowa’s two-time Secretary of State, held at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. The meeting was one of several listening sessions that the Secretary has held across Iowa in recent months to find ways to improve our local business climate.

Among other duties, the Secretary of State is the office in Iowa responsible for many of the official connections between the state government and our business community. Some of their functions include receiving corporate filings, maintaining the business registry, issuing Certificates of Good Standing and certifying Notaries Public.

That makes this office an integral—though often overlooked in this context—part of our state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Most attendees at the meeting were attorneys, accountants or others that directly interface with the Secretary of State’s office regularly. I was there as someone primarily interested in the data on our business community that exists with their databases and what we can learn from it.

I’m really interested in finding out whether all of the work we’ve been doing collectively in the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem is having any effect. I’d like to know if we’re truly accelerating the growth of new and sustainable businesses in our state. How many new businesses are created in the state each year (Pate said 20,000 were registered in 2016 more than double where we were in his first term in the late 1990s) and how many dissolve? How many firms exist that are under two years old? The Kauffman Foundation has found that all net new job creation comes from these young firms. Of course, I’d also like to see how these metrics have changed over time.

Surprisingly, at least to me, there’s not anyone in Iowa publishing this data. We know it exists in the Secretary of State’s databases but their systems are so antiquated they’re not able to efficiently retrieve or share it.

While access to that data is important to me and would certainly be useful in examining and refining our efforts in growing Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, it’s just a small part of why the Secretary of State’s office wants to upgrade their systems.

Updating the technology that their office runs on was the primary theme of the listening session as the Secretary spoke mostly about how the current system slows business filings and holds up the day-to-day operations of those seeking to do business with his office.

An adjacent theme was building support for the new fees his office has been authorized by the legislature to charge in order to cover the costs of the new technology.

Secretary Pate, a Republican, estimates needing an additional $7 million to make this upgrade and expects to fund it over 4-5 years. Despite that funding mechanism, it might be a heavy lift in the midst of an (estimated) $300 million budget shortfall.

Geoff Wood is the co-founder of Clay & Milk and the founder of Gravitate, a coworking community and entrepreneurial support organization in Des Moines. He’s been helping tell the story of the Iowa startup community since 2009.